Looking out the window of the plane flying into Manila I saw the ocean dotted with fishing huts reaching far out from the shore and I knew, we had arrived in the Philippines. I so often feel like you can't tell one place from another when high in the sky, but you most certainly can. The red earth of Africa, the architecture of the homes seemingly stacked upon homes in India, the fishing huts in the Philippines, the curve of the shoreline in California.... and somehow every place feels like arriving home.
I travelled with two of the Indian nurses I work with, it was their first time out of the country and we could not have been more blessed to get to be a part of Operation Smile's 30th anniversary celebration in their journey to change lives forever.
30 years ago Dr. Bill Magee travelled to Naga City and performed 40 cleft surgeries, having to turn away 260 other patients who so desperately needed their help. This is how Operation Smile was born out of a previously unanswerable need to bring these children back into an accepted part of society. 30 years later and over 200,000 operations have been performed. I would say that Dr.Magee is seeing his dream come true to make the world cleft free. There is a passion so intertwined in this organization, it can not be escaped. In the month of November 1,000 medical volunteers gathered at 9 medical mission sites all over the Philippines and together performed 1,219 life changing surgeries. What an incredible month!
The site I was on was in Cebu City, the second largest city in the Philippines and, in my opinion, the most amazing team was there! From screening day onward, I was blown away by the happiness and warmth the patients and their families had. I feel like no matter where OpSmile takes me, I fall in love with the people and the country and the Philippines was no exception. Every time I walked past the ward I was greeted with smiles, waves, and the classic Filipino "handsome" pose (see below.) I can't even begin to describe how impossible it is not to love these kids! We completed over 180 successful surgeries when it was all said and done and of course I found it difficult to leave on that last day knowing I will likely never see these children again.
At the end of the mission week, the four teams gathered back in Manila to celebrate together. It was a great time catching up with all the other teams and spending time with old friends from past missions. We had a lot of dancing and each team performed a dance that they practiced during the week. Our team raised money to pay for two surgeries during the week and the prize was that we got to shave the student sponsor's head! It was such a good end to an incredible week together.
On our team day we saw the dancing inmates . I still don't know how I feel about it. It is a 'maximum security' prison but we got to take pictures with a few of them? I'm confused :/
Pre-operative waiting area
The classic Filipino picture pose! So handsome!!
Mack our coordinator!!
Now that is commitment to the cause! Bye Bye hair!